Once every four years they become the fixation of a nation.Their every move is dissected, every failure lamented and every triumph celebrated.The Olympic and Paralympic athletes train their entire lives for a few fleeting moments which will determine whether they become national heroes, receiving calls from the president and prime minister, or remain anonymous, at least until the next games.The four years in between are filled largely with excruciating training sessions and competitions which fail to capture the public’s attention.They are also a battle for survival for many of Israel’s athletes, with the financial reality of their situation meaning only a select few actually earn a respectable living while the rest fight for the leftovers.The Olympic Committee of Israel’s yearly budget is around NIS 20 million, with some NIS 13m. going to the athletes, coaches and their needs and another NIS 4m. toward promoting the Olympic idea.The OCI receives around half of its income from the Israel Sports Betting Board and the National Sports Council, with another NIS 6m. coming from sponsorship deals and support from abroad. Only Israel’s top Olympic athletes receive a monthly stipend from the OCI and the amount they are granted is allocated according to their success. They are split into four squads: gold, silver, bronze and senior.Those in the gold squad – which in 2016included only five names: judokas Yarden Gerbi, Sagi Muki and Golan Pollack, triple jumper Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko and windsurfer Ma’ayan Davidovich – receive NIS 8,500 a month. The athletes in the silver squad have to settle for NIS 6,000, with the bronze squad receiving NIS 4,500 a month and the senior squad NIS 3,000.In order to make up for its inability to pay high salaries, the OCI has actively worked in recent years to connect athletes with companies and businesses in the private sector. Around 45 athletes currently have sponsorship deals with 34 different bodies.
The vast majority of Olympic athletes require outside help to make ends meet and focus completely on their sport, but Israel’s Paralympians are in a far tougher position.The Paralympic Committee of Israel’s budget is only around NIS 4m., with almost all of it coming from the Israel Sports Betting Board and the National Sports Council.The PCI also has gold, silver and bronze squads, but those in the gold receive only NIS 2,500 a month, the silver NIS 2,000 and the bronze NIS 1,500.The PCI turned to the High Court of Justice demanding to receive the same public funding as the OCI, but despite a ruling in its favor, a government committee ultimately decided there is no such need, leaving Israel’s Paralympians in dire straits. The Paralympians also have a far tougher time attracting sponsors, with many companies concerned their brand might be harmed by people with disabilities. “There has been an increase in the budget over recent years but it doesn’t meet our true needs,” said the PCI’s professional director Ron Bolotin. “We need to raise the awareness of the importance of investing in Paralympic sport. There is no doubt that larger stipends for the athletes will allow them to allocate more time to training and will also allow us to nurture young talents.”Israel’s Paralympians won three bronze medals in this summer’s games in Rio, fewer than in previous games but nevertheless an impressive achievement when considering the leading nations have budgets reaching tens of millions of euros.The OCI faces a similar predicament, being expected to win medals at every games despite competing against similar size countries with far greater budgets, not to mention the behemoths of world sport who benefit from conditions Israel’s athletes could only dream of.Nevertheless, Israel’s delegations have managed to win at least one medal in every games since Barcelona 1992, apart from London 2012, finishing with three bronzes in Rio 2016, won by swimmer Inbal Pezaro, rower Moran Samuel and shooter Doron Shaziri.The president of the OCI, Igal Carmi, explained how the committee decides where to invest the money.“Our sports committee headed by Yael Arad and the Elite Sport Department highlights professional matters that need strengthening,” said Carmi. “After we agree with our partners regarding the importance of the subject we build a plan. We always make broad plans with the goal of having a positive effect on the infrastructure of Israeli sport.”Carmi gave as an example this past year’s NIS 1m. investment in a project aimed at strengthening the mental aspect.Another NIS 1m. a year was spent on nurturing the next generation of coaches in Israel.Increased funding will allow the OCI to implement more professional programs, which Carmi believes will ultimately also result in more success on the international stage.
“For example, we want to increase the number of young athletes between the ages of 16 and 22 to create a bigger base. The cost of that project is estimated at NIS 10m.,” said Carmi. “Another important issue which needs to be addressed is a program aimed at preparing the athletes for life after their careers end.“There is no doubt that increased funding will be translated into professional plans that will improve the infrastructure of Israeli sport and will eventually raise our level of success,” explained Carmi. “The National Sports Council, the Israel Sports Betting Board and the Culture and Sport Ministry are responsible for setting the policy and taking care of the infrastructure. They are aware of the need to increase the funding of sport in Israel, and I know they are working on the matter.”Nevertheless, Carmi revealed some of the difficulties of dealing with these bodies. “Despite the goodwill of all these bodies, for some inexplicable bureaucratic reason, the Israel Sports Betting Board’s funding of the OCI for 2016 has still not been approved and we are still receiving payments according to the budget of 2015,” said Carmi. “It is hard to explain exactly why, but several happenings have resulted in this flawed situation and it shows the difficulty of working with these bodies.”While most of Israel’s Olympians and Paralympians receive meager salaries, they perhaps can at least seek some consolation in the knowledge that should they ever win a medal they will be handsomely rewarded. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev announced earlier this summer that Israel’s Olympic and Paralympic medalists will receive an additional financial bonus. The Olympic bronze medalists were set to receive NIS 250,000 from the OCI, but Regev decided to increase the sum after realizing that they will have to pay up to 50% tax on the prize.Therefore, bronze medalists will receive an extra NIS 300,000 from the ministry, for a pretax total of NIS 550,000. Had any Olympian won a gold medal they would have been given NIS 500,000 from the ministry, as well as an apartment worth NIS 1m. courtesy of sponsor Peri Real Estate.The three Paralympic medalists will be awarded NIS 300,000 from the ministry, but receive nothing from the PCI.Had any Paralympian or Olympian won a silver medal they would have been granted NIS 400,000 from the ministry, and a gold would have earned them NIS 500,000.In Russia, a gold medal is worth 4m. rubles, which is the equivalent of about NIS 230,000. And in France, a gold pays €50,000.Japanese gold medalists are awarded 5m. yen, or roughly NIS 190,000, from the Japanese Olympic Committee.The US Olympic Committee’s Operation Gold program awards slightly lower bonuses. Gold medals net American athletes $25,000 apiece, and silver and bronze earn them $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.That means for his six medals this year, Michael Phelps will receive $140,000 in bonuses from the USOC. Simone Biles will get $110,000 for her four golds and bronze.British athletes don’t receive any bonuses. Nevertheless, Israel’s athletes might be happy to exchange places with their British counterparts.UK Sport, which determines how public funds raised via the national lottery and tax are allocated to elite-level sport, pledged over $450m. to Olympic and Paralympic sports between 2013 and 2017.Britain was second in the Rio Olympics medal table behind only the United States, finishing with 27 gold medals, 23 silvers and 17 bronzes.All the money in the world won’t see the Israel delegation emulate the Brits in Tokyo 2020. But the OCI and PCI believe that increased funding is imperative in order to simply live up to current expectations and not fall further behind the rest of the world.